Gardeners, bee prepared: review your plantings in Pollination Week

The honey bee arrived in Australia 190 years ago, and is now part of an industry worth billions of dollars, but native pollinators, including bees, ants, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths and flying foxes also play an important role as pollinators in healthy native ecosystems, as well as in agriculture and horticulture. And it's the local pollinators that are the focus of Pollination Week, which starts on Sunday.

The blue-banded bee, and other natives tend to forage locally.Credit:Alison Milton

Does pollination really need its own week? Dr Amy-Marie Gilpin says yes.

"Mainly when people think about pollinators, they go straight to the European honey bee," she says. "It's important to understand the range of native pollinators and their role and how we can conserve them because they are super-important for everything in our way of life."

Gilpin is part of a research project at Western Sydney University looking at securing pollination within agro-ecosystems now and into the future. Her particular focus is on how climate change will affect pollinators. She is looking at what elevated carbon dioxide does to the production of pollen and nectar in eucalypts, the main source of food for pollinators around the country.

Meanwhile, gardeners can help support healthy populations of native bees and other pollinators through the choices they make in the garden.

While the European honey bee is a long-distance forager who will fly up to 10 kilometres in search of food sources, native bees like to keep it local.

The foraging range of most of the 1200 species of native bees so far described is just 400 metres. The tight neighbourhood range of native bees makes home gardeners a vital link in providing habitat and food for local native bee populations.

It might make for a garden that looks a bit wild, but it will be very much alive.

A bee-friendly garden will feature a diverse range of native plants, from herbs and sedges to larger shrubs and trees, providing year-round flowers for pollen and nectar. Some native bees are generalists, such as the blue-banded bee, which is just as happy with the flowers of lavender or rosemary as a juicy native.

Others are much more discerning. The Persoonia bee, for example, is completely devoted to the geebung (Persoonia pinifolia). A high diversity of flowers available over a long period of time boosts pollinator numbers and variety.

A pollinator-boosting garden proudly boasts a few weeds in the lawn or in garden beds to increase the food supply and some of the herbs and vegetables will be allowed to go to seed. And because native bees choose different housing options, from holes in bits of hardwood, to bundles of sticks, pieces of reed, and mud bricks or old mortar, there will be plenty of bee hotel options (check aussiebee.com.au for building tips), including some areas of unmulched bare earth to allow solitary native bees to dig burrows. It might make for a garden that looks a bit wild, but it will be very much alive.

Pollination Week runs from November 10 -17.

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